What grows in our Vineyard?
Farmers and friends often ask us how we tobacco farmers turned vegetable and fruit farmers got involved in wine grape growing. Sometimes we are not completely sure ourselves!
It happened at the time of the tobacco buyout when so many of us were looking for alternative crops that would provide us with the same per acre revenue as tobacco. Alternative crop decisions were difficult due to the small size of our farm. Wine grapes held a lot of potential as a strong farm revenue source. They say timing is everything and this case it was certainly “something”.
University of Maryland was doing research at the time of wine grape varieties that are suitable to Southern Maryland climate and soils, the county government was looking for a way to help sustain agriculture in the region after the decline of tobacco and the town of Leonardtown happened to be looking for an attraction to occupy a vacant building at the entry to the Town – the County Seat. At the same time a small group of hobby wine grape growers came together to form an association and out of all that the Southern Maryland Wine Grape Growers Cooperative was born. Now 18 members strong, the coop trades at the Port of Leonardtown Winery. Our winery has been open to the public since 2010 with a variety of award-winning wines.
Forrest Hall is proud to be a founding member and an active participant in the Southern Maryland Wine Growers Cooperative.
The vineyard at Forrest Hall consists of 7 acres of wine grapes – 4.5 acres of Chambourcin, a half-acre of Cabernet Franc and one acre each of Vidal Blanc and Cayuga. Most of our vines have reached the full or near full production stage, but we have just over an acre of young vines that are not yet yielding a robust harvest. Like all agricultural crops, some years yield a better harvest than others. In addition to the human influence, farm crops are always subject to the weather conditions of the season.
Grape vines need water like any living thing, but they do not like to be too wet – they actually prefer to be on the dry side. Southern Maryland vineyards are subject to the impacts of mold and mildew due to our high humidity and are often the target of our increasing deer population. Not all varieties of wine grapes will do well in Southern Maryland. The University of Maryland Research Farm in Upper Marlboro did research on varieties that are suitable to Southern Maryland climate and soils and saved us all years worth of trial and error in variety selection.
The vineyard like all other farm enterprises here at Forrest Hall is a family operation. Joe and I are members of the coop as are our three grown children. One of the things we liked so much about tobacco production was that it allowed us to all work together on the crop as a family – there was a job for even the youngest of the children.
Wine grapes allow us to do that same thing only this time we get to involve the grandchildren!